Ignore Huawei, this could be the rival Apple and Samsung really need to worry about

Ignore Huawei, this could be the rival Apple and Samsung really need to worry about

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It’s no secret and dominate the global smartphone market. Until recently, it was thought Chinese tech giant Huawei would soar past both and take the biggest slice of marketshare. However, things haven’t been quite so straightforward for Huawei with the Chinese tech giant now banned from using Google apps and services – including the Google Play Store and all of the apps, movies and eBooks sold within it – on its new smartphones. This has resulted in the firm limiting the availability of its newest flagship, the Mate 30 Pro, which has, unsurprisingly, curtailed sales worldwide. In fact, the latest data suggests Huawei is on the decline outside China. According to the latest figures from Strategy Analytics, the Shenzhen-based firm’s global smartphone marketshare dipped from 16.1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2018 to 15 percent in the same period in 2019. For reference, Apple and Samsung were said to have 18.9 percent and 18.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2019 respectively.

And that’s where Oppo comes in.

The Chinese tech giant is a fresh-faced new competitor in the UK but claims to have experienced exponential growth since its debut last year, in part due to its high-profile sponsorships with the likes of Wimbledon, Roland-Garros and the International Cricket Council (ICC). In the UK, Oppo is striving to stand alongside Apple and Samsung and present itself as “third alternative” thanks to its focus on design and innovative technologies like blisteringly fast wired charging.

Express.co.uk recently had the chance to sit down with Oppo UK’s Managing Director, Kevin Cho, about the firm’s first year in the UK and how it plans to stand out in a saturated market going forward.

Cho argued the UK smartphone market is currently dominated by “two very big players” he named as the “A-brand” and the “S-brand”. Of course, it’s no secret he’s talking about Apple and Samsung here. But what is really interesting is that Cho didn’t name Huawei as a brand Oppo is looking to challenge. And with no trade-ban blocking Oppo from shipping smartphones with Google Maps, Gmail, YouTube and the rest preinstalled… it does now seem to have an advantage over the H-brand.

Discussing Oppo’s strategy in the UK market, Cho said: “I think there’s a great opportunity in the UK market. As you will appreciate, the UK is a very saturated and competitive market but it’s dominated by two or three, I would argue two very big players and it has a long tail of brands, smaller brands or legacy brands or brands that have been around for a long time but haven’t really made a splash into the market.

Oppo is a fresh-faced new competitor in the UK (Image: Oppo)

Apple vs Samsung vs Oppo

Cho said Oppo’s strategic partnerships massively helped grow its awareness (Image: Oppo)

The original Find X from 2018 is still the best-looking phone you can buy

“So it’s a very polarised market and I think the opportunity for us is to bring a unique value proposition into the market to let the consumer see a clear third alternative within the market. Something that they would embrace, that they will enjoy using as a fashion accessory and extension of their personal identity, other than the S-brand or the A-brand. So I think this is the opportunity and being a market that’s so dominated by two large brands I think the opportunity is for us is – how do we make consumers see the value of an alternative brand and how do we cement ourself going forward into 2020.”

So what does Oppo get right? Well, in this writer’s opinion it nails the design of its products – more so than any of its competitors when it’s firing on all cylinders. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the original Find X from 2018 is still the best-looking phone you can buy.

Additionally, the firm also places a key emphasis on cameras and fast wired charging – Oppo was one of the first smartphone vendors to release a phone with a periscope-style telephoto camera and still holds the title for having the fastest charging phone on the market, the Reno Ace.

As expected, Cho emphasised Oppo’s design expertise but also noted the company is hard at work on new innovations to help it stand out from the crowd moving forward.

The UK Managing Director stated: “I think you are spot on when you say design and I’ll add one more component to that – I think it’s design and innovation. When I say innovation it’s about focused innovation, that will deliver the needs of the consumer or that will satisfy the requirements of the consumer, that will actually benefit consumers’ everyday life so design is around aesthetics – it’s embedded in everything we do, from the way we design the look of the phone and the feel of the phone.

Apple vs Samsung vs Oppo

You’ll see Oppo’s logo whenever Rafael Nadal is sliding across the clay of Philippe-Chatrier (Image: Oppo)

“So design is definitely one component to it and the other part is the focused innovation. When I say focused innovation it’s about delivering things that matter to the consumer – so fast charging technology is one. You know a bezel-less screen through unique form factors is another one of them.”

Although Cho didn’t discuss particular growth statistics for Oppo in the UK during its first year, he did say the firm’s strategic partnerships with the likes of Wimbledon massively helped grow its awareness. In essence, deals with Roland Garros, Wimbledon and the ICC mean Oppo’s logo is always in the field of view when Roger Federer is smashing forehands on Centre Court or Rafael Nadal is elegantly sliding across the clay of Philippe-Chatrier.

Commenting on Oppo’s sponsorships, Cho continued: “Before entering the [UK] market the brand is you know, the awareness is minimal. And in mid-year last year when we signed with Wimbledon immediately we saw a huge surge in terms of the awareness level when we measured. Post-Wimbledon I think we were sitting on 0 percent from relatively unknown and then at the end of last year we were actually sitting on 16 percent in terms of prompted awareness in this market, which I can attribute a lot of that awareness gained through these major sponsorships.”

Oppo is known for its range of smartphones, from low-end handsets to flagship phones designed to compete with the best Apple and Samsung has to offer. When it comes to the UK though, the firm has a somewhat limited range of handsets… when compared to its offerings in China anyway – you can’t pick up Oppo’s 65W fast charging Reno Ace without importing it, for example.

Express.co.uk asked Cho if Oppo plans to make its product ranges more ubiquitous going forward. Of course, the executive didn’t confirm or deny anything, but he did tease that some China-exclusive features could be making their way to global devices set to launch at MWC later this month.

Apple vs Samsung vs Oppo

Oppo suggested features like the Reno Ace’s 65W charging could arrive on other devices coming soon (Image: Oppo)

Apple vs Samsung vs Oppo

Oppo is expected to unveil the successor to the Find X at MWC later this month (Image: Oppo)

Cho explained: “So ubiquity versus customisation is a constant push and pull for the product development team and I think as you could probably gauge from all my previous responses that you know for us it’s about bringing what we think is the right product mix that’s right for the market that we enter into. That’s why you have a unique offering that’s created for the domestic market versus the Indian market versus the Western European markets versus the South East Asian market, right.

“However, aligning our product portfolio globally also has its own benefits in terms of expectation from the consumer, gaining economies of scale. So there are pros and cons for both but from our European strategy I think customisation will be the key, you know – it’s about bringing what we think or what the consumer thinks is the right product for that particular market. Would you see the features that you saw in the Reno Ace that we bring as part of the new set of products that will be launched MWC, I’ll say it’s very possible.”

Oppo isn’t all about smartphones though. The Chinese firm used to make high-end Blu-ray players back in the day and has also dabbled in the headphone market. And with Apple and Samsung branching out from smartphones to offer wearables, headphones of their own and other connected devices, Cho suggested Oppo is gearing up to do the same.

The company has already confirmed it’s working on a and a new pair of headphones which could both debut at MWC in Barcelona this month.

Cho went on: “In terms of consumer electronics our DNA always has always been in other parts of the whole consumer electronics industry and the smartphone happens to be our focus over the last decades so to speak.

“But with an increasingly connected role that’s enabled by 5G and the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) and also all the peripheral technology like cloud computing like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), we are seeing that as a company and we have invested over the long term to provide an offering that will give consumers a more seamless experience across the board rather than just the handset that’s a gateway for people to consume services but going towards a more connected 5G world it’s also a hub that connects everything together.”

With Huawei firmly unable to deal with US domestic companies (let alone enter the US smartphone market at all), now seems like as great an opportunity as Oppo can get to start selling to the country’s vast population of well over 300 million people. That said, Cho firmly emphasised Oppo would never enter a new market because of a “downfall of a competitor”. Instead, the Managing Director insisted its expansion into other markets depends on whether it believes it has the “right portfolio” of products to make them appealing.

Although it hasn’t confirmed any plans to expand to the US, Oppo did announce last month it will land in Mexico in the first half of 2020.

Now, to the burning question every Oppo fan wants to know – can the firm truly compete with the likes of Apple and Samsung? Well, only time will tell. But we’re certainly excited to see what it shows off at MWC later this month.

Express.co.uk will be in the crowd at Oppo’s Barcelona keynote, so stay tuned for all the latest announcements!

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